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Indiana University

The Thomas Ehrlich Award for Excellence in Service-Learning

April 13, 2012
Bloomington, Indiana --

Image of Beth GazleyTo get an idea of the impact that Beth Gazley has had on service-learning at Indiana University Bloomington, consider this: Students in her courses have put in an estimated 30,000 hours in volunteer time with more than 80 community organizations since 2004.

But effective service-learning requires much more than matching students with organizations -- the process works best when as much attention is given to learning as to service. And Gazley has worked diligently to develop an approach to teaching that balances the interests of students and agencies and meets the larger needs of university and community.

"Beth has successfully brought hundreds of students into local nonprofits to conduct service-learning projects," says Barry Lessow, executive director of United Way of Monroe County. "While it is not unusual for us to be asked if we have opportunities for service-learners, it is rare that they come with so much insight, preparation and support."

Gazley's professional background -- she spent 16 years working in nonprofit management before earning her Ph.D. -- makes her unusually sensitive to the needs and goals of organizations that partner with IU students on service-learning activities. She considered the service-learning experience essential to students' understanding of the nonprofit sector. But she says she still had a lot to learn upon joining the School of Public and Environmental Affairs faculty.

To that end, she developed a close, collaborative relationship with IU Bloomington's Service-Learning Program, part of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. She joined its inaugural class of Faculty Fellows, consulted with service-learning classes in other disciplines, attended conferences and initiated training for the program's Advocates for Community Engagement, students who serve as liaisons between agencies and campus volunteers.

"It is clear to those who engage in service-learning that it requires considerable commitment and work on the part of students, community organizations and faculty alike," says Andrew Libby, community engagement coordinator with the Service-Learning Program. "Dr. Gazley undertakes this work energetically and enthusiastically, creating pedagogically sound service-learning courses that provide a meaningful academic experience to her students and a genuine benefit to her community partners."

Gazley has linked students and community through a range of graduate and undergraduate courses in nonprofit management and leadership. Students devote three to five hours a week to service. They have conducted research, staffed programs and organized publicity for such organizations as the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival, WFHB community radio, the Boys and Girls Club, and community arts groups.

With her colleague Leslie Lenkowsky, a clinical professor in SPEA, Gazley taught a spring 2011 capstone course for Master of Public Affairs students, in which they assessed the overall civic impact of the university. With the IU Bloomington Office of the Provost as a client, the students carried out research to support the campus's upcoming reapplication for Community Engagement Classification by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

In another class taught by Gazley, S362 Nonprofit Management, undergraduate honors students compiled comprehensive data about student civic engagement at IU Bloomington, which bolstered the campus' successful application to the U.S. Corporation for National and Community Service for inclusion in its 2010 President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.

Gazley's research agenda has meshed with her teaching. Together with colleagues Laura Littlepage from SPEA at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Teresa Bennett of the IUPUI Solution Center, she engaged in a five-year study of the "supply side" of student learning, seen from the perspective of host agencies. The research team found that host agencies gain measurable benefits from student involvement, but some lack the staff and resources to make effective use of students, and many want to be more engaged with faculty in designing service-learning projects.

The project produced rare generalizable research on a community's receptivity to student involvement and helped to explain why some nonprofits continue to involve students even when they require more effort. The research is being published in three peer-reviewed journal articles and two book chapters.

One striking finding: Nearly every community agency in Monroe County and half of those in Marion County had made use of college student volunteers and service-learners. Gazley hopes that by helping her colleagues understand how to build effective partnerships with host agencies, this figure will keep growing.